By Walter Pincus
Monday, July 14, 2008
Congress has quietly used fiscal 2008 legislation on military construction to signal that it plans on a long-term military presence in Afghanistan.
In the recently approved supplemental funding bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, legislators approved construction of a $62 million ammunition storage facility at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, where 12 planned "igloos" will support Army and Air Force needs.
"As a forward operating site, Bagram must be able to provide for a long term, steady state presence which is able to surge to meet theater contingency requirements," the Army said in requesting the money.
When he initially sought the funds last year, Adm. William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, described Bagram as "the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia."
In another sign that U.S. troops will be there a long time, the Army requested, and Congress provided, $41 million for a 30-megawatt power plant at Bagram. It is capable of generating enough electricity for a town of more than 20,000 homes.
On the other hand, Congress eliminated the Army's request for $184 million to build power plants at five bases in Iraq. Those are to be among the final bases and support locations where troops, aircraft and equipment will be consolidated as the U.S. military presence is reduced.
In his testimony last year, Fallon said: "As smaller contingency operating sites are closed and forces are consolidated on contingency operations bases, the latter will need significantly more electricity." At present, the military uses diesel generators to power the bases.
But Congress "did not want to do anything in Iraq that seemed long-term, and the power plants would have taken up to two years to complete," said one Senate staff member familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak for lawmakers.
The funding plan also shows preparations to shut down Iraqi military facilities. Money was approved to build landfills, at $880,000 apiece, at five forward operating bases scheduled to be closed, including ones at Fallujah and Ramadi.
"These landfills are required to ensure we meet environmental, base camp closure, and property disposal procedures," the Army said in asking for the money.
Congress did approve $11.7 million to build a facility for juveniles held by the United States at an Iraqi army base on the outskirts of Baghdad, called Camp Constitution. A former U.S. forward operating base, it has been turned over to the Iraqi Army, which uses it as an adult detention center. Within it, however, the United States will run what it calls a Theater Internment Facility Reintegration Center for the juveniles.
Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who until recently ran the U.S. detention program in Iraq, told reporters last June 9 that he separated the younger detainees at Camp Cropper each day and bused them to Camp Constitution, where they were provided schooling and athletic opportunities. That took them away, for a time, from the hardened fighters who had recruited them.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.